In the late 1940s, the veterinary services in French Equatorial Africa (AEF) started a programme aimed at introducing, acclimatising and breeding large cattle in regions where it was virtually inexistent and cattle farming had been deemed impossible due to endemic animal trypanosomiasis. Inspired by the success of cattle farms functioning under similar conditions in the neighbouring Belgian Congo, French experts believed that cattle farming could be made possible. In their view, the extension of the pastoral frontier would not only bring about a long-term solution for widespread malnutrition, but also alleviate underpopulation and ultimately economic underdevelopment.
This paper is a preliminary analysis of the rationalities, practicalities and consequences of this experiment. The extension of the pastoral frontier into the humid savannas of Equatorial Africa was a huge logistical operation, involving the purchase, transport, acclimatisation, breeding and diffusion of thousands of animals under often difficult conditions. It also involved the development and mobilisation of different forms of expertise, ranging from pedology and botany to veterinary medicine, and created new forms of cattle farming as well as labour relations. The paper shows why and how veterinary experts planned and started the introduction of trypanotolerant cattle into the AEF; and how European companies and African villagers gradually bought into this project, as they tried to benefit from the opportunities it raised. It also highlights the eminently transnational character of this endeavour by pointing at the influence of previous similar attempts in the Belgian Congo. Finally, it argues that, in various ways, the establishment of trypanotolerant cattle farming in the AEF was illustrative of and contributed to the making of global capitalism.